By Randall Osborne

On the strength of its transgenic mouse technology, Medarex Inc. has bagged another antibody deal, this one worth up to $13 million, with ErythroMed Inc.

Donald Drakeman, president and CEO of Annandale, N.J.-based Medarex, said ErythroMed will use the HuMab-Mouse strain as well as Medarex's manufacturing and antibody development capabilities.

"It gives us a chance to show the 'one-stop shopping' aspect of our partnering program," Drakeman told BioWorld Today.

Under terms of the research and license agreement, ErythroMed will use the HuMab-Mouse technology as part of a platform Jeffrey Wolf, president and CEO of ErythroMed, said "can potentially be used to treat scores of diseases."

License fees, milestone payments, and preclinical and clinical manufacturing funds could exceed $13 million, plus royalties on future product sales by privately held ErythroMed.

Although based on research begun in 1991, ErythroMed was formed about a week ago.

The company's technology uses erythrocytes, the body's red blood cells, to eliminate pathogens from blood.

"We've done it on about 50 monkeys, and it's worked 100 percent of the time, clearing the virus completely," Wolf said.

The monkey experiments used bacteriophage X174, a well-characterized virus that circulates in the bloodstream but has no secondary effects — that is, causes no disease, said Paul Belsky, a scientific advisor to ErythroMed.

"Later trials are going to have to establish that a disease-causing organism can be as quickly cleared as a non-disease-causing organism," Belsky said. "There's no reason why it shouldn't."

ErythroMed's technology is bispecific, he said.

Chemical 'Hooks' Clear Pathogens From Bloodstream

"You're using the mechanism of the red blood cells to attach a protein you make," Belsky explained. "It attaches to the red blood cell and to the organism you want to clear."

In effect, a chemical "hook" is hung on the CR1 receptor of red blood cells. The hooks remove pathogens from the bloodstream, sending them to the liver and spleen to be destroyed.

"You're fooling the system to make it work better," Belsky said.

Wolf said ErythroMed's system works quickly, attacks many infections and may prove useful in biological warfare. The technology was licensed from the University of Virginia (UVA), in Charlottesville.

Last fall, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) chose Ronald Taylor, a professor of biochemistry at UVA, to receive the annual Award for Significant Technical Achievement. The honor recognized Taylor's research into the red-blood cell "hooking" system.

Wolf is a venture capitalist with Athena Ventures LLC, of New York. Jeff Himawan, also with Athena, is the company's director of scientific operations. They are ErythroMed's only employees. Himawan holds a doctorate in biochemistry.

By this time next year, ErythroMed expects to have a full staff, Wolf said. The company plans to invest several million dollars in the UVA research over the next two years, as it carries out the Medarex partnership.

Medarex also disclosed the results of a global industry survey that found more than 260 companies worldwide are developing monoclonal antibodies for use as therapeutic products or in vivo diagnostics.

"That's what we see as our potential customer list," Drakeman said. About 700 antibodies are in development or on the market.

Medarex now has five corporate partnerships based on its monoclonal antibody technology. The largest potential deal is with Centocor Inc., of Malvern, Pa., which could be worth more than $50 million. Medarex acquired that partnership with its takeover of GenPharm International Inc. (See BioWorld Today, May 7, 1997, p. 1.)

"If you add all of the deals up, they exceed $90 million [in potential value]," Drakeman said.

The company also has five products in clinical development. Late last year, it launched a Phase III trial of MDX-RA, a monoclonal antibody linked to ricin, a plant-derived toxin, designed to prevent secondary cataracts. The product was acquired in Medarex's buyout of Houston Biotechnology Inc., of The Woodlands, Texas. (See BioWorld Today, Dec. 22, 1997, p. 1.)

Medarex's shares (NASDAQ:MEDX) closed Thursday at $7.812, up $0.312. *